Several decades of Western Oregon alumni are represented in a new exhibit

Western Oregon University’s Hamersly Library is featuring ‘Alumni Art: Remembering Western’ as its Winter 2013 exhibit. / JUSTIN MUCH / Statesman Journal

The Statesman Journal
By Geoff Parks

A diverse group of artists representing several decades of Western Oregon University graduating classes returned to the campus last week to reflect on, and revel in, their personal artistic journeys.

The Hamersly Library’s current exhibit, “Alumni Art: Remembering Western,” has a twist on the first such show, held in the fall of 2000 to dedicate the building. That event was a juried invitational exhibit of selected artwork of 10 past art faculty members, including present professor emeritus of art, James Kirk, and the late Tom Creelan, a Chemeketa Community College art instructor. The 2000 exhibit also was the first for Jerrie Lee Parpart as new exhibits coordinator for the Hamersly.

But this year’s event, which will run through March 17 in the second- and third-floor exhibition areas of the building, is non-juried, and there are 21 works being shown, including creations from well-known alumni artists and those whose school majors were in disciplines other than art.

Works in media from metal and stone to painting, fiber (Parpart’s own piece consisted of an undulating tube of woven fibers), photography and illustration are part of the display.

Two artists, Sister Hilda Kleiman of Mt. Angel and Rebecca Cook of Neskowin, represent the variety of vocations and passions of the alumni.

Kleiman graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from WOU, then moved on to a master’s degree in the same discipline from Oregon State University. She currently is one of the 39 members of the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Angel, a Catholic women’s religious community, and is an assistant professor of English and Writing at the Mt. Angel Seminary.

In her continuing studies, Kleiman took a weeklong series of classes in iconography in the summer of 2009, and found a talent and spiritual call to work on the ancient art, which heretofore had been most closely associated with Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Her work, “The Mother of God,” is a representation of the Virgin Mary done (icon works have specific traditional requirements) on birch wood with gesso and egg-yolk tempera.

More and more, iconography is being accepted and utilized by Western Christian churches, Kleiman said, as a way for people to connect with a spiritual image through a visual human representation of Jesus, Mary or a specific saint.

“In that way, icons can be thought of as ‘windows to Heaven’ ” while in prayer or meditation, she said.

Cook is representative of students who start college with a goal in mind, then tenaciously pursue whatever courses bring them a step closer to their goal. She earned a two-year transfer degree from Tillamook Bay Community College, commuting from Neskowin every day.

Then, she earned her bachelor’s of fine arts degree in sculptural ceramics from WOU in two years, again commuting from Neskowin, and all the while working as a florist.

“WOU was wonderful for me,” she said. “The class sizes were small and the professors were all so approachable and personable.”

She now works as the design jeweler at the Salishan Spa and Golf Resort in Gleneden Beach — once again commuting from the former family dairy farm she owns in Neskowin.

She said her ceramic sculpture, “Study No. 2,” on display at the WOU alumni exhibit, was created more in the tradition of letting the medium lead the process than any conscious effort on her part to design the piece beforehand.

“I don’t see the art first as an object,” Cook said. “I start the work, then see where the clay takes me.”

The non-juried aspect of the show also had the added benefit of bringing alumni to the campus who hadn’t visited in awhile.

Patricia Young, a painter and alumni of WOU who attended when the school was still called the Oregon College of Education, blogged about being pleasantly surprised by the invitation to exhibit at the show.

She mentioned how the experience of delivering two watercolor paintings to an assistant curator was both cathartic and nostalgic, and led her to some deep college-memory introspection.

Her works, “Wisteria Over Alleyway” and “Fertile Slopes,” are among the pieces on display, hopefully compelling other young artists to embark on their journeys of self discovery.

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